Tag Archives: ethics

I won’t help you recruit a receptionist/volunteer coordinator

graphic by Jayne Cravens representing volunteersRecently, I got asked if I would share a job opening at a PDX (Portland, Oregon)-area nonprofit. It was for a receptionist / volunteer coordinator. I responded:

I actually have a policy not to promote receptionist/volunteer coordinator jobs. Sorry. It’s a matter of my perspective about the importance of both positions.

It wasn’t the first time I had to tell someone this.

I will not promote receptionist / volunteer coordinator jobs. I will not promote receptionist / donor manager jobs, receptionist / marketing manager jobs, nor receptionist / legal council jobs. Not that I have ever seen those last three jobs advertised. Because such a combination of jobs would be preposterous. Just as preposterous as combining receptionist and volunteer coordinator, or volunteer manager, or director of volunteer services into one position.

I could write a long blog about why but, honestly, if you don’t get it, I just don’t have the time…

See also:

When mission statements, ideologies & human rights collide

logoThere is a legal case in Canada that started in 1995 regarding a person that was refused participation as a volunteer, and that case has always stuck with me. I have never, ever seen it discussed on an online forum for managers of volunteers and never heard it mentioned at a conference related to volunteerism or nonprofit management. I guess I’ve been waiting all these years for someone else to say, “Hey, what about this? How does this affect us? Might this affect us?” But no one has. So, I guess I will, per a discussion that came up on my blog Treat volunteers like employees? Great idea, awful idea.

In Canada, Kimberly Nixon, a transgendered woman, launched a human rights complaint against Vancouver Rape Relief, a nonprofit, for excluding her as a volunteer peer counselor for raped and battered women that seek the services of this nonprofit. Vancouver Rape Relief said it rejected Nixon as a volunteer peer counselor because the organization’s spaces for counseling clients are dedicated women’s-only spaces, and their clients come to the organization specifically because of this commitment to women’s-only spaces (unlike many other nonprofits that offer rape counseling – another women’s group, Battered Women’s Support Services, accepts transgendered women as volunteers, and Nixon volunteered there previously). Vancouver Rape Relief said the reason was also “because she did not share the same life experiences as women born and raised as girls and into womenhood.”

After 12 years of legal pursuits, in 2007, the Supreme Court of Canada denied Nixon’s appeal to have her case heard, leaving the B.C. Court of Appeal’s decision in December 2005 as the last word on the dispute. This article offers a nice summation of that appeal’s court decision:

While it may appear that Rape Relief discriminated against Nixon because she was born with a penis, they have a different rationale. Rape Relief’s collective belief is that far beyond a person’s biological make-up, socialization and experience are what shapes individuals. It’s part of their philosophy that women experience the male-dominated world differently than men. That was the 34-year-old organization’s original argument for why they should be allowed to exclude men when their women-only policy was first challenged in the 1970s, and they feel it’s relevant to whether they should admit transsexual women.

It’s noted in the article, and I think it is VERY important to note here, that “both parties agreed that Nixon was a woman and that gender existed on a continuum — it wasn’t binary, despite the social convention of dividing everyone into categories of male or female” and “both the tribunal and Rape Relief accept that Nixon has a genuine interest in counselling other women, and she has done so both before and after her filing the human rights complaint.”

This article from 2000, before the case was decided by the courts, does a good job of showing the different arguments in the case. But even with a final decision, the case continues to be a source of controversy in Canada and abroad among those concerned with human rights applications for transgendered people. Some still call Vancouver Rape Relief “transphobic”: this article says that because the organization is “allowed to make their own determinations about who is—or who is not—a woman, and exclude them accordingly” that the organization is “allowed to discriminate against trans women. As a feminist and an ally to the trans community, I find this extraordinarily disturbing.” Disputing these accusations, the organization has a section on its web site defending its definition of a women-only space and its commitment to such, and one of the organization’s long-time staff members, Lee Lakeman, notes in this 2012 interview, that “Aboriginal people used the arguments that we built in court to defend their right to be only Aboriginals in their group.”

I do not bring any of this up to try to debate who is and isn’t a woman.

I could have also brought up cases regarding tribal membership – this article does a great job of explaining why cultural identification determination is so difficult, as well as explaining why tribal leadership gets to determine who is and isn’t a member of their tribe, rather than the federal government or the federal courts. Conversations and debates about such can be just as heated as the Nixon case.

I bring this case up to remind nonprofit staff, employees and volunteers alike, that a definition you may have of a particular aspect of humanity – who is or isn’t a woman, who is or isn’t gay, who is or isn’t a member of a particular ethnic group, who is or isn’t a member of a particular tribe, who should or should not call themselves an Oregonian or a Texan or a German or an English person or an African whatever – may not be the same, or as absolute, as someone else’s. Mission statements, ideologies, beliefs about human rights and the law can all collide – and have over and over, in break rooms, in meeting rooms, at community events, and in the courts. Don’t be surprised when it happens at, or regarding, your nonprofit.

What’s my opinion on this case? No way I’m going there… I’ve been controversial enough on my blog (links below). I’m going to let ya’ll debate it in the comments, if you want.

But I did kinda sorta blog about something like this before, back in 2012: Careful what you claim: the passions around identity

Also see:

Resources re: labor laws and volunteering

graphic by Jayne Cravens representing volunteersLabor laws regarding volunteering vary from country to country. For instance, in the USA, creating a written contract or memorandum of understanding with a volunteer, ensuring there is an agreement on what is expected of a volunteer, is normal and entirely legal, but in the United Kingdom, such can make the volunteer a paid employee, and due for financial compensation.

How should you determine who is a volunteer and who should be paid for the hours they work at your organization, no matter what country you are in?

There are terrific resources on the US Department of Labor web site regarding volunteerism that can help any nonprofit or charity, in any country, think about both why it involves volunteers and how it should talk about the value of volunteerism, as well as the qualities of a well-run volunteering program. Although it’s USA-centric and cites USA law, much of what it proposes regarding volunteerism is based in ethics as much as law.

For instance, there’s this detailed response by DOL staff to someone asking if the time employees spend on volunteer activities outside their employer’s worksite or on activities outside their regular work are compensable working time. For instance, “Does the employer have a duty to compensate non-exempt employees for the time they spend volunteering on a Habitat for Humanity project outside of normal working hours?” Any corporation that organizes volunteering activities for its employees needs to read this document carefully.

Employees volunteering outside of their jobs, at the direction of their employer, is further explored in this response from the DOL, which talks about nurses being asked to volunteer their time, unpaid, to participate in community service activities, such as taking blood pressure at a health fair, teaching child care classes to expectant parents, participating in “career day” at a local school, helping the Red Cross, or helping with the hospital picnic. Other activities in question involve employee attendance at patient care conferences, task force meetings, and committee meetings on their days off or outside regular working hours.

Also see:

Fact Sheet #71: Internship Programs Under The Fair Labor Standards Act

Whether an incentive based pay plan at a company, which includes civic and charitable volunteer activities, complies with the minimum wage and overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Both of these are USA-centric as well but, again, the advice is terrific for other countries as well. Of course, you should still check to see what your country’s laws are regarding volunteers, including interns or anyone to whom you aren’t paying at least a legal minimum wage.

In addition, there’s also this Safety and Health Checklist for Voluntary and Community-Based Organizations Engaged in Disaster Recovery Demolition and Construction Activities. This detailed document emphasizes the importance of such organizations promoting the health and safety of their work teams, including volunteers, and provides a checklist outlining some of the hazards frequently encountered during disaster response and recovery operations and what the organization should have in place to support and protect volunteers, including what training volunteer work teams should have. This checklist is great no matter what country you are in.

Having a mission statement for your organization’s volunteer engagement can protect you from over-zealous staff members, consultants and corporate funders who want to push for volunteers to replace paid staff and save money, or to increase volunteer engagement in areas of the nonprofits work that would be inappropriate. It also could help protect you against lawsuits from volunteers who feel they were merely unpaid workers. The US Department of Labor (DOL) and US Federal Courts want to see that the work of volunteers is distinctly different from the duties of the organization’s employees – and their guidelines on how they make the determination regarding who is a volunteer and who should be paid are good guidelines for volunteering other countries as well. To determine whether an individual is truly volunteering, the DOL and US Federal Courts look to:

  • The nature of the entity receiving the volunteer services
  • The character of the volunteer services (activities) themselves
  • The amount of control the employer or engaging organization exerts over the volunteer
  • Compensation or benefits provided to the volunteer, or that the individual expects
  • Whether the volunteer work displaces paid work by regular employees

You can read more from the DOL here.

Also see Is Your Volunteer Really an Employee? The Answer Might Surprise You [Part 1] and Is Your Volunteer Really an Employee? The Answer Might Surprise You [Part 2].

If these links ever stop working, cut and paste the URL of any one of them into archive.org, and you should be able to access an archived version of the document.

Learn more about how to talk about the value of volunteers.

 

Medical Voluntourism Can Cause Serious Harm

In a recent blog hosted by the Scientific American, Noelle Sullivan, a member of the faculty in global health studies at Northwestern University, says her research shows that some people volunteering abroad for a few weeks, or several weeks, to engage in medical “help” for people in developing countries “does indeed cause harm. In fact, the international volunteer placement industry opens the door to potentially disastrous outcomes.”

Empirical data about the medical voluntourism industry is sparse, but Sullivan does have solid data: “I’ve studied medical volunteering in Tanzania since 2011, including over 1,600 hours observing volunteer-patient interactions across six health facilities. I have spoken with more than 200 foreign volunteers in Tanzania, plus conducted formal interviews with 48 foreign volunteers and 90 hosting health professionals.

She notes a variety of voluntourism web sites that invite volunteers with little or no medical training to do invasive procedures abroad, including providing vaccines, pulling teeth, providing male circumcisions, suturing and delivering babies. “Most volunteers I’ve observed deliver at least one baby, despite being unlicensed to do so.”

Her examples in the article are stunning: in Tanzania in 2015, her team encountered a young woman that’s called Mary in her article:

Mary routinely delivered babies unassisted by local midwives because she appeared familiar with the procedure—a skill she said she learned in 2013 on a previous volunteer stint.

Mary violated obstetrics best practices, doing unnecessary episiotomies (cutting the skin between the vaginal opening and anus to make room for the baby’s head) and pulling breech babies (babies positioned bottom instead of head-first in the birth canal). Once routine in obstetrics, current guidelines restrict episiotomy to exceptional cases because they may cause permanent problems for the mother, including incontinence. Meanwhile, pulling breech babies can cause suffocation.

After Mary’s departure, we learned she was not a medical student at all; she was an undergraduate student, unaware of the risks in what she was doing. 

Voluntourism – where volunteers pay large amounts of money to go abroad for a few weeks, or even several weeks, to engage in a short-term activity that will give them a sense of helping people, animals or the environment – is a growing industry. I look at most of it with great skepticism in terms of actually helping anyone, because it’s focused on the wants of the volunteer – that feel-good, often highly photogenic experience – not the critical local needs of local people or the environment, and there’s little screening of volunteers – most everyone is taken, so long as they can pay. What these foreigners bring through these voluntourism programs is often not skills, experience or capabilities that cannot be found locally – it’s money.

The End Humanitarian Douchery campaign takes a much stronger stand against voluntourism in any form than I do, drawing attention to the negative consequences such can have for local communities in particular. The campaign organizers offer tips on “how to find a program that will have a truly POSITIVE impact on the host community.” Likewise, ‘Looks good on your CV’: The sociology of voluntourism recruitment in higher education, an academic paper by Colleen McGloin of the University of Wollongong, Australia and Nichole Georgeou, of Australian Catholic University, says that “voluntourism reinforces the dominant paradigm that the poor of developing countries require the help of affluent westerners to induce development. And this article is advice from someone who paid to volunteer abroad – and realized she shouldn’t be. All are worth reading, no matter where you stand on the issue of voluntourism or volunteering abroad.

I do think there are some effective short-term pay-to-volunteer abroad programs, among them Bpeace and Humanist Service Corps. But both of these programs are driven by what local people want, and they do NOT take just any volunteer that can pay.

This is my reality check regarding volunteering abroad, which reviews all the different types of programs. It links to many articles that discuss the dangers of voluntourism programs to local people, and to volunteers themselves, and to quality advice on how to make a real difference abroad.

July 17, 2017 updateCharities and voluntourism fuelling ‘orphanage crisis’ in Haiti, says NGO. At least 30,000 children live in privately-run orphanages in Haiti, but an estimated 80% of the children living in these facilities are not actually orphaned: they have one or more living parent, and almost all have other relatives, according to the Haitian government.

Also see:

 

Treat volunteers like employees? Great idea, awful idea

graphic by Jayne Cravens representing volunteersBack in 2009, the Volunteer Centre South Derbyshire, in England, featured one of my posts from UKVPMs (a discussion group for volunteer managers in the United Kingdom) on its blog in response to an article that says treating volunteers like employees is a great idea. I’m flattered that they thought my thoughts so worthy!

Here was the situation that I commented on:

In this commentary in the Guardian, the writer talks about a volunteer DJ at a small Christian radio project in South Manchester, England, who was fired when staff became aware that he is gay. The writer’s conclusion is that the employment laws need to apply to volunteers in order to protect them from being fired for no good reason.

Here was my response from UKVPMs (edited a bit for clarity):

On the one hand, I don’t believe in requiring volunteers to do things that staff are not required to do: background checks should be for everyone, not just the volunteers. The anti-discrimination policy of the organization applies to everyone, not just paid staff. Neither paid staff nor volunteer staff should be exploited or mistreated or neglected.

But on the other hand, I also come from the point of view that:

  • volunteering with a nonprofit is a privilege, not a right. I involve volunteers so long as it explicitly benefits the mission of the organization, and if forced to choose, my loyalty would be to the mission of the organization and those it serves rather than to a volunteer.
  • volunteers are human beings and should absolutely be expected to be treated as such, however, they are NOT employees, and therefore are not entitled by law to any of the same legal benefits of an employee.
  • volunteers are managed by a volunteer coordinator, rather than a human resources director, because volunteers are NOT employees.

So I read this article with a lot of empathy and sympathy, but then cringed at “Volunteers should be protected against unfair dismissal.” Legally protected? If so, legally protected how?

The primary consequence of an employee being unfairly dismissed is that he or she loses income. There are other consequences, but loss of income is the primary consequence, and we all know that income is necessary for survival. The laws that protect employees from being unfairly dismissed aren’t designed to do anything other than to prevent an employee from losing income and to restore an unfairly-treated employee’s lost income; the laws aren’t designed to restore anyone’s dignity or honor.

What would be the legal redress of a volunteer wronged? If a volunteer is granted the ability to sue regarding dismissal, what will the compensation be if whatever deciding body sides with the volunteer? Will he or she receive money? If so, say goodbye to volunteer involvement at probably most organizations; they aren’t going to risk that kind of financial expenditure. Reinstatement? The organization will be forced to involve the volunteer in his or her previous role? Does that volunteer then become untouchable, meaning the organization will have to keep the kinds of files, including regular evaluations, on volunteers that they maintain for staff in order to justify the disciplining, the requirement for training or the firing of a volunteer?

I guess in summary: I don’t ever want any volunteer dismissed for arbitrary reasons, I don’t ever want any volunteer mistreated or exploited, and I want us all to work to make sure that never happens, but I also don’t want volunteers to become employees, for a variety of reasons that I hope I’ve made clear (not sure I have).

And so I don’t really know what the answer is…

And I still don’t.

Requirements to volunteer are getting out of hand

graphic by Jayne Cravens representing volunteersThere are requirements in some school districts for students to perform a certain number of volunteering hours with nonprofit organizations. And courts across the USA often sentence law breakers to work unpaid – to volunteer – a certain number of hours with nonprofit organizations.

I’ve not been opposed to these requirements, though I do feel that schools and courts need to sit down with nonprofits and talk about the costs of such volunteer engagement for nonprofits. Organizations are not sitting around saying, “Gee, we’ve got all this work to do, I wish some people would come do it for free.” Volunteers are not free: they must be screened, supervised and supported. Tasks must be created for volunteers, and nonprofits have NO obligation to accept every person that says they want to volunteer. If you want nonprofits to involve more high school students or court-assigned volunteers, you are going to have to fund these nonprofits so that they have the resources to do that.

Now, I’m reading about governors and state legislators in the USA wanting to require even more people to volunteer.

For instance, as of January 2016, more than 17,000 food stamp recipients in eight Kentucky counties had to begin part-time work, education or volunteer activities to keep their benefits. Childcare is not provided for these food stamp recipients for their part-time work, education activities or volunteering time.

In addition, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin wants to require unemployed Medicaid members to volunteer in order to receive those benefits.

Danielle Clore, executive director of the Kentucky Nonprofit Network, had a lot to say to Bevin’s office when it asked the group to support his proposal:

The bottom line is this will cost nonprofits money – money and resources we don’t have to spare. It takes professionals to effectively manage volunteers. For the experience to be valuable for both the agency and the individual, volunteer efforts have to be managed. Is it worth the limited and precious resources of a nonprofit to manage a volunteer that is there because ‘they have to be,’ not because they want to be? Nonprofit employees are spread so thin as it is and I feel like a volunteer requirement for anyone not truly committed to the mission of the agency isn’t an effective use of anyone’s time.

I do not typically take people who are ‘required’ to volunteer, because they don’t make good volunteers. Also, 20 hours is A LOT OF TIME. We don’t allow people to volunteer that many hours because at that point they could be considered a part time employee employee, and you have potential legal issues to consider.

Emily Beauregard, executive director of Kentucky Voices for Health, told Kentucky Health News in an interview, “We need to provide them with the support services that they need, but forcing people to volunteer in order to get health care doesn’t make anybody healthier. We know this. There are data to suggest that. In fact, sometimes these stringent requirements put people in a position where they are unable to get care and then they get sick, and they are unable to work.”

I have nothing to add to Ms. Clore and Ms. Beauregard’s comments – they are RIGHT ON.
Pennsylvania, Florida and North Carolina also now have these requirements people receiving food stamps must volunteer with a community service provider for a certain number of hours.

Here’s another example, and it may be even worse: in the proposed budget by Ohio Governor John Kasich, House Bill 49, he stealthily includes a line item requiring all licensed educators in Ohio to complete an unpaid internship with a local business or chamber of commerce as a condition of license renewal. As written, this requirement would extend to all educators — including teachers, principals, superintendents, and other school administrators — licensed by the Ohio Department of Education. This shameful proposal is wonderfully skewered in this editorial by Sue Grodek. Kasich is insulting teachers, who must already complete vast numbers of hours of classroom time and teacher training, by requiring them to be free labor for business-focused organizations, implying that teachers lack “real world” experience. It’s absolutely outrageous!

There’s no question that these requirement for volunteering from certain groups is now out-of-control. If you want to require any group to volunteer, you had better sit down, face-to-face, with leaders of organizations that involve volunteers, and work really hard to get their buy-in. You had better be able to say why it is to the organizations’ benefit to involve these people – and you had better not say it will save them money, because it will NOT. In fact, you had better have money to offer to cover the substantial costs of asking them to increase the number of volunteers they involve. And most of all, you better have data showing that this type of required volunteering is needed by the volunteers themselves. 

Nonprofits: if you aren’t worried about this now, then wake up. You have every right to write your state and national legislators, as well as local media, and tell them NO. It’s never been more important for your organization to create a mission statement just for your volunteer involvement. Otherwise, you can expect not only increased expenses as you take on more volunteers you didn’t recruit yourself, but also an even bigger backlash against all volunteering.

Will the various associations of directors of volunteers in agencies (DOVIAs) and associations of managers of volunteers and what not take a public stand on this issue? I’m not holding my breath. But kudos to the Kentucky Nonprofit Network and the Nonprofit Association of Oregon and others for taking a strong public stand against political moves that will damage nonprofits and their clients.

Also see:

Anti-volunteerism campaigns

This week marks the 20th anniversary of the Presidents’ Summit on America’s Future in Philadelphia, a three-day event that was aimed at boosting volunteerism and community service efforts across the USA. President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, former Presidents George Bush, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter and retired Gen. Colin Powell all participated. The original web sites of these campaigns are long gone, but I have screen captured them from archive.org and linked them from my web page tracking anti-volunteerism campaigns.

The summit resulted in a lot of press coverage, the launch of at least one nonprofit, and a huge boost for the Corporation for National Service, particularly AmeriCorps. But the summit also resulted in some anti-volunteerism campaigns, both on the political left and the political right.

I’ve been tracking campaigns against volunteer engagement since that time, and I’ve linked everything I’ve found from that aforementioned web page as well. These anti-volunteerism campaigns are not just in the USA: I have information about anti-volunteerism in Europe and elsewhere as well.

I track anti-volunteerism campaigns, and share what I find, for two reasons: (1) Those that promote volunteerism need to be aware of criticisms to their belief that volunteer community service is a great thing, and know how to counter such criticisms, and (2) Some of the complaints these campaigns have about volunteer engagement are absolutely legitimate, and also need to be addressed.

Actually, there is a third reason I share what I find: (3) I had someone that heads a major international organization that promotes volunteerism deny that these campaigns exist at all, particularly in Europe.

My only fear in sharing this information is that anyone would think I’m opposed to volunteer engagement! I hope that doesn’t happen…

One more thing: one of the most outspoken organizations against volunteering, which is cited on this page, is the Ayn Rand Institute. And, yet:

Yes, they are against volunteering UNLESS it’s for their organization.

Anyway… here is a long list of great reasons to involve volunteers.

Update: July 13, 2017: I strongly believe that many of these anti-volunteerism sentiments are being driven by disgruntled volunteers who feel like they are being involved at nonprofit organizations only to save money, and that if an organization had money to pay staff, they would gladly replace volunteers with such. Remember, Volunteers DO sue sometimes for back pay. In addition, unpaid interns are pushing back against not being paid, including at nonprofits and international agencies. In fact, there are even blogs that give advice to unpaid interns – volunteers – on how to sue.

Involving volunteers: a cop out for paying staff?

Nurses in the Philippines are angry. They are being forced to work for free, or for a stipend on which they cannot live, while the hospitals where they are working call them “volunteers.” Some hospitals are even charging nurses for their “volunteer” work experience. Thousands of graduate nurses are paying hospitals and working for months without salaries under the guise of “training,” so the nurses can gain work experience and have an improved chance of being employed as a regular staff eventually. As a result of this exploitation, nurses have filed cases against four hospitals through the Philippines Department of Labor and Employment – National Labor Relations Commission in February and March. Nurses have also sought the help of a Philippines political party, the Ang Nars Party, which has been using its Facebook page to highlight their campaign against what they are calling “false volunteerism”. (Thanks, oh-so-awesome DJ Cronin, for the heads up about this situation!)

You can read more about this situation at the Nursing News, March 2, 2017, but be warned: this is a click-bait site, packed with advertising banners and in-text advertising links.

I am, of course, outraged about this situation in the Philippines. It’s the same outrage that prompted me to call on the United Nations to defend its involvement of full-time, unpaid interns. It’s not only horrible that these nurses are being exploited; these kinds of actions create campaigns opposed to some or all volunteering (unpaid work). No doubt the hospitals in the Philippines have happily talked about the value of volunteering only in terms of money saved in not paying staff, just as ILO, the Johns Hopkins University Center for Civil Society Studies, UNV, and others have encouraged them to do.  The result of this exploitation will be a further backlash against all volunteering in hospitals in the Philippines – and beyond. The fight against unpaid internships hurts volunteering. And all of this is because so many organizations see volunteers only as a way to not pay staff, to save money.

If you do not have a  written statement that explains explicitly why your organization reserves certain tasks / assignments / roles for volunteers, including unpaid interns, and that statement has NOTHING to do with not having enough money to pay staff, then you have no business involving volunteers, or unpaid interns, or whatever it is you want to call people you aren’t paying for work.

Good luck to the nurses in the Philippines. And good luck to hospitals in justifying future engagement of volunteers after making so many enemies to the term.

Also see:

That moment when you totally change your mind about volunteer engagement

wizardAn email I received a few days ago. I’ve changed it a bit to hide the identity of the author:

I want to thank you, sincerely, for challenging me to think about my understanding of volunteering. You really got me thinking. I had a 3.5 hour drive ahead of me last night, and the discussions around mandated community service and volunteerism kept rolling around in my mind. In my current role, I haven’t really had to think about court mandated service as volunteering and from personal experience, I don’t know if those mandated, would consider themselves volunteers? I am trying to resolve this, for my own benefit at this stage, and I am finding it quite difficult! I intend on mulling this over a bit more. I trying to consider the benefits/detriment of either belief…. Challenged? Yes!

I love making people uncomfortable about volunteer engagement. I love challenging oh-so-solid notions about who is and isn’t a volunteer, the value of volunteering, and why people volunteer. Why? Because volunteer engagement is so much bigger than just, “We’ve got work to do. Let’s get some good-hearted people to do it for free!”, and I so want this mentality to change!

The results of this? I’ve made people angry. I’ve made people tear up. Some people have double-downed on their oh-so-rigid definitions. But most, while challenged, have also been inspired. They don’t all come to the exact same conclusions as me regarding volunteer engagement and its value, but they definitely broaden their original ideas.

I remember my big ah ha moment regarding volunteer engagement, via an event by Triumph motorcycles. And my blog, Should the NFL involve volunteers for the Super Bowl?, talks further about why I changed my mind about volunteers supporting for-profit settings, in certain situations.

Want me to challenge your organization? Complete details about my consulting services.

Also see:

Have you ever changed your mind?

Volunteer manager Fight Club

Missed opportunity with #volunteers: “No one ever asked me for my name. They didn’t have a sign in sheet.”

Kentucky politicians think volunteers are free

Seal_of_KentuckyKentucky’s governor, Matt Bevin, a Republican, is working to end kynect, the state’s widely-lauded health insurance exchange and one of the most successful under the federal Affordable Health Care Act. His proposal will transition enrollees to the federal health insurance exchange. His new health care plan would also require “able-bodied” adults on the plan and without jobs to take a job training course, get regular job counseling, or do community service for nonprofit organizations.

Last week, administration representatives were asked at a committee meeting by Kentucky State Representative Mary Lou Marzian, a Democrat, if any state funding had been allocated to support the cost of background checks for volunteers required to do community service. The answer was that “any nonprofit that chooses to conduct background checks would need to cover the costs.” In other words, the state government will require community service of certain people, and expects nonprofits to accommodate these people with volunteering opportunities, but will not cover any of the costs associated with screening the people, let alone the substantial costs of training and supervising them.

There was also a concern voiced at the meeting about volunteers being asked to cover the cost of their own background check; many organizations do require this, and the people being required to do community service in order to keep their health insurance will largely represent people with low incomes. This issue was identified by Kentucky State Senator Julie Raque Adams, a Republican, as a “red herring;” Adams asserted that many organizations don’t really need criminal background checks, and she based this assertion on her children’s volunteer experiences.

All of the aforementioned information was related by the Kentucky Nonprofit Network via their Facebook page and an article in The Interior Journal, serving Lincoln County, Kentucky.

Senator Adams’ comments about background checks, and those of representatives of the governor’s office, are deeply disturbing, showing a woeful lack of understanding of volunteer engagement and risk management, one that is similar to the US Congress. As noted by the Kentucky Nonprofit Network:

The perception of societal benefit and an overwhelming need for volunteers by the sector seemed to outweigh any recognition of the realities of the true costs of managing a volunteer program (or influx of volunteer requests) – supervision, management, support, background checks (including the reality that this isn’t a luxury – it may be required to protect vulnerable populations), etc. Perhaps this is true – is there a dire need for volunteers?

The network is asking this question via Facebook – and so far, no nonprofits are saying, “Hurrah! An influx of volunteers! Just what we needed!”

It’s obvious that the Governor’s office did not do any research regarding nonprofits in the state and their needs regarding volunteers, and certainly no research regarding the substantial costs associated with involving volunteers.

In addition, K.J. Owens of Louisville won applause from the overflow crowd in Frankfort at a public hearing regarding the proposal when he said the plan “seems motivated by the concern that poor people are defective morally . . . that poor people just aren’t trying hard enough. The people on Medicaid are in no more need of moral guidance than the governor and the people on the governor’s staff.”

On a different but equally disturbing note, Bevin’s proposal also would eliminate dental and vision coverage now included in Medicaid Several other speakers expressed the same concern about excluding dental benefits in a state with some of the worst oral health in the nation, including one of the highest rates of adults with no teeth.

More information about the proposal, as well as a platform to comment on this proposal to the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, can be found via the website chfs.ky.gov, and I call on all nonprofits back in my home state, all volunteers for those nonprofits, and anyone who cares about this issue, to give feedback via this state web site!

Congrats to the Kentucky Nonprofit Network for focusing on this issue. That’s what state agencies should be doing, and too many do not. It will be interesting to see if AL!VE (Association of Leaders in Volunteer Engagement) will address this issue at all. This is a big deal, and nonprofits all over the country, not just in Kentucky, need to pay attention!

Let’s hope Bevin doesn’t get any ideas from the U.K.’s disasterous Big Society efforts from a few year’s back (UK as in United Kingdom, not the University of Kentucky…).

Update: August 14, 2016 letter to Deputy Chief of Staff Office of the Governor, Matthew G. Bevin from Danielle Clore, Executive Director/CEO, Kentucky Nonprofit Network. It asks very tough questions about this proposal – which have not yet been answered.

Volunteers are NOT free.